DEFRA Embeds PPM Maturity Transformation with Microsoft PPM Tools

DEFRA – the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – is a UK government department, operating at a ministerial level and supported by 3,500 staff plus 33 agencies and public bodies. The department is responsible for safeguarding the UK’s natural environment, supporting its food and farming industry, and sustaining a thriving rural economy. DEFRA, therefore, plays a major role in the day-to-day life of UK citizens.

In early 2020, DEFRA’s Director-General Chief Operating Officer, Sarah Homer, identified the need for a PPM tool that would enhance visibility, transparency, delivery, risk, and issue management. Microsoft Gold Partner and approved HM Government G-Cloud supplier, Wellingtone, was selected to support the build, configuration and rollout of Project Online with Power BI across DEFRA’s Corporate Services Division. With significant public sector experience including working with the Home Office government department, Wellingtone acted as a key partner to DEFRA throughout this business change. DEFRA’s Michelle Ward – PMO Lead, Programme Transformation – and Toby Lumber – PPM Consultant, Digital Data and Technology Services (DDTS) – reflect on the journey.

DEFRA Microsoft Project Online Case Study




Products and Services

Microsoft Project Online

Microsoft Power BI


United Kingdom


Central Government

Key Benefits

  • Deployment and onboarding of Project Online across the Corporate Services Division
  • Agile and Waterfall templates designed to adapt to industry-specific standards
  • Flexible, responsive training for maximum user adoption
  • A rapid business change, implemented within just 10 months

A Journey of Discovery across Tools, People and Processes

DEFRA’s path to Project Online began with a three-month discovery period, led by Michelle and Toby. “We spent significant time examining the ‘holy trinity‘ of tools, people and processes,” says Michelle. “We already deploy Microsoft and the Office 365 suite, so Project Online and Power BI were logical tools to explore. We attended a Microsoft seminar presented by Wellingtone, and we thought that their approach to the system’s capabilities looked really interesting.”

Toby’s role was to lead on implementation. “A legacy version of Project Online sat within DDTS, so I was keen to consider how we could leverage the tool’s newer capabilities across the wider organisation,” he explains. “Although Wellingtone’s core role was configuration, rollout and training, they have exceeded expectations and acted as a valuable extension of the project team.”

Michelle agrees: “We see Wellingtone as a partner and expert adviser. Achieving adoption and momentum was crucial for the transformation programme’s success, so we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel unnecessarily.  We needed to develop our own methodologies, based on how people were already managing stages, phases, lifecycles and the like. That was done in-house, but Wellingtone acted as our go-to partner for guidance on issues including sector best practice, alignment with APM frameworks and achieving PPM maturity.”

Toby points out that Wellingtone’s previous experience as a central government supplier added significant value. “They provided an independent and authoritative voice to guide our proposals and stakeholder engagements,” he says. “They inputted ongoing support as well as technical muscle. That has been a great asset as we worked through some complex challenges.”

Wellingtone acted as our go-to partner for guidance on issues including sector best practice, alignment with APM frameworks and achieving PPM maturity.

Michelle Ward, PMO Lead, Programme Transformation

Aligning Agile and Waterfall Methodologies with Industry-Specific Standards

One of those challenges was incorporating standardised processes across the Corporate Services Division. “There are some specific methodologies that must be followed,” Toby explains, “DEFRA is closely aligned with the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and Infrastructure Projects Authority (IPA). Plus, depending on the department, we needed to accommodate pre-existing industry methodologies – for example, RIBA. Within those parameters, Wellingtone supported us in developing Agile and Waterfall methodologies and building the templates and data around that. Most areas of Corporate Services have now adopted that as standard. That’s a really important step towards developing greater PPM maturity as an organisation. Wellingtone inputted their ideas and expertise into that transformation process in a very positive way.”

Michelle adds that “Wellingtone’s ability to show us examples of their work with the Home Office helped us to build an evidence base. We could demonstrate that we were deploying the right skills and partnerships to move forward in a way that aligned with other government departments. It has also given us time back benefits as we apply lessons learned through previous work. I find Wellingtone very generous in sharing learning from other customer engagements for mutual benefit.”

As well as offering an independent strategic perspective, Wellingtone also inputted their technical expertise into the Project Online build and rollout, Toby says. “They came up with really good ideas that challenged some of our thinking, resulting in a better output. Both the build and the training have been excellent. The training was a big challenge – because we were onboarding a raft of different people with different perspectives and capabilities.”

The training was delivered at multiple levels – from Wellingtone’s Project Online Practitioner course to drop-in sessions and tailored training for staff with specialised functions. As Michelle points out, the Covid-19 pandemic did not make things easier! “Initially, the plan was to achieve MVP status by February/March and then roll out a phased transition across Corporate Services. Then, COVID hit. As a result, full onboarding could not start in earnest until June. But, once we gathered momentum, people quickly saw the benefits. We were able to grow our campaign mandate rapidly, by demonstrating the time and efficiency benefits the system brings. During the chaos of the early pandemic, our relationship with Wellingtone was even more valuable. They were flexible to the volatile circumstances we were facing. They adapted their approach quickly to accommodate changes and challenges, and in doing so helped us to meet our targets against all the odds. We committed to getting Corporate Services onto the system by the end of the financial year, and we have achieved that goal. We committed to producing data health indicators, which Toby has created. Moving forward, that data will give us assurance around what is working and where the gaps are so that we can continuously improve. Wellingtone has acted as a valuable sounding board during that process.”

They came up with really good ideas that challenged some of our thinking, resulting in a better output. Both the build and the training have been excellent.

Michelle Ward, PMO Lead, Programme Transformation

Establishing Proof of Concept for Further Business Change

Early discussions are also taking place around updating the DDTS legacy system, according to Toby “The intention, moving forward, is to migrate DDTS onto the new iteration. We’re also looking at some of the tool’s further capabilities in areas like resource management, financial management, project pipeline and prioritisation.”

Michelle and Toby agree that Wellingtone’s combination of technical skill, PPM expertise, public sector experience and partnership ethos has generated hugely positive results.

They’ve done a really great job, both on the configuration, build and training, and through the committed, transparent advisory support they have given us. They are industry experts who work in genuine partnership with their clients. For us, it is a huge achievement to get the campaign for business change successfully embedded across Corporate Services in just 10 months. Wellingtone have been instrumental partners for us on that journey.

Stephen Dines, Project SRO